Studies of brain-behaviour interactions in the field of working memory (WM) have associated WM success with activation of a fronto-parietal network during the maintenance stage, and this mainly for visuo-spatial WM. Using an inter-individual differences approach, we demonstrate here the equal importance of neural dynamics during the encoding stage, and this in the context of verbal WM tasks which are characterized by encoding phases of long duration and sustained attentional demands. Participants encoded and maintained 5-word lists, half of them containing an unexpected word intended to disturb WM encoding and associated task-related attention processes. We observed that inter-individual differences in WM performance for lists containing disturbing stimuli were related to activation levels in a region previously associated with task-related attentional processing, the left intraparietal sulcus (IPS), and this during stimulus encoding but not maintenance; functional connectivity strength between the left IPS and lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) further predicted WM performance. This study highlights the critical role, during WM encoding, of neural substrates involved in task-related attentional processes for predicting inter-individual differences in verbal WM performance, and, more generally, provides support for attention-based models of WM.
Majerus, S., Salmon, E., & Attout, L. (2013). The Importance of Encoding-Related Neural Dynamics in the Prediction of Inter-Individual Differences in Verbal Working Memory Performance. PLoS ONE, 8(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0069278